The Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB) received a $15 million appropriation for the 2010-2011 biennium from the Texas Legislature to administer a state funded grant program to assist soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) in performing operation, maintenance, and structural repair of flood control dams throughout the state.
“Every SWCD that reported an operation and maintenance (O&M) need in the last year of the previous funding cycle has been allocated a percentage of what they reported, and notification of those allocation amounts has been sent to those SWCDs so that work can begin,” said José Dodier, Chairman of the TSSWCB.
Dodier added that the TSSWCB would provide a mechanism that allows for other local sponsors of flood control dams to receive an eligible SWCD’s allocation if the SWCD provides a written request to transfer the allocation.
John Foster, TSSWCB Statewide Resource Management Programs Officer said that all O&M reimbursement requests will be paid by the TSSWCB at 90 percent of the total reimbursement request amount. Ten percent of the total reimbursement request amount must be paid through funds not originating from state appropriations.
“What’s happened is that over the last 60 years nearly 2,000 floodwater retarding structures or dams have been built within 148 watershed project areas in Texas for the primary purpose of protecting lives and property by reducing the velocity of floodwaters,” said Dodier.
“These are earthen dams that exist on private property. They were designed and constructed by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS formerly Soil Conservation Service) with the understanding that the private property owner would provide the land, the federal government would provide the technical design and expertise including the funding to construct them, and then units of local government would be responsible for maintaining them,” added Dodier.
Local units of government include SWCDs, counties, cities, and Water Control and Improvement Districts.
“The problem that has arisen over time is that when the projects were planned and structures built, the majority of the areas in which they were built were in a rural setting. Over time conversion from agricultural to urban land use has taken place and is continuing to intensify, so many of these structures that were originally constructed as low hazard are now classified as high hazard, or soon will be as a result of downstream urbanization and population growth. Compound that with the fact that it has been historically difficult for local sponsors to raise adequate funding for the operation and maintenance of these structures”, added Dodier.
These earthen structures, most of which have been constructed in the central part of the state, are known by multiple names such as flood control dams, floodwater retarding structures, watershed structures, or flood prevention sites. Classified according to their potential to impact human lives and public infrastructure should a failure occur, these earthen dams are given a categorization as low hazard, significant hazard and high hazard.
Foster explained that a low hazard dam’s failure would cause damage primarily to agricultural land, farm buildings and rural roads. The failure of a classified significant hazard dam has the potential to damage minor state roads and utilities while a dam classified as high hazard has the potential to cause significant damage to urban structures, main highways and utilities as well as loss of life.
Foster added that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is the state agency responsible for dam safety inspections, but the TSSWCB would now be able to assist SWCDs and local governments in meeting the TCEQ standards for safety.
Working in combination with the appropriation provided to the TSSWCB by the State Legislature, the USDA-NRCS received $20 million in funding from Congress through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to repair 20 dams and an additional $4.8 million to rehabilitate or redesign and upgrade two existing dams. One is the Calaveras Creek Dam located in Bexar County and the other is the Plum Creek Dam in Hays County.